The Numbers Game: Is It Ever OK to Share GPS Coordinates to Offshore Bites?

There's a bit of etiquette involved when it comes to sharing fishing spots. Learn how to handle this often delicate topic.
Don't burn spots!
When is it OK to share your GPS coordinates? Courtesy Dall-E

“I don’t know how to put this but I’m kind of a big deal. People know me.” 

Maybe not in the same way they know Ron Burgundy, but yeah man, I catch a few fish. Then incessantly brag about it on social media. 

I know it’s lame. It’s definitely pretty irritating to those folks who want to keep the bite on the downlow, but as a guy who runs a multi-boat charter operation, I have to do this sort of thing to stay booked.

So I’m sorry, but I’m not sorry. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

One result of all this self promotion is that over the past decade or so I’ve developed a reputation as a guy who finds and catches tuna.  

Is it deserved? Does it matter? I’ve embraced it because it’s good for business. I don’t ever want to get a “real” job.

But let me make something clear. I do NOT have some 6th sense of where the fish are going to be. I sure wish I did, but really, I do the same stuff that everyone else does, running around aimlessly, burning a ton of fuel on hunches, and making plenty of bad decisions.  

Sailing every darn day the weather allows helps. You develop a sense of what to look for in water temperature, color and clarity, bait concentrations, bird and mammal life. Experience serves me well … until it doesn’t. The truth is, like most folks who are successful offshore, I rely on colleagues, friends, and other offshore junkies to help me find the fish.

Is that a cop out? Maybe a little.  But when you have to get on fish daily, it just makes sense to have a group of guys you trust that cover more ground than you can yourself.  I’m not ashamed to admit that intel from other captains, specifically “numbers” (AKA GPS coordinates) are almost always part of my gameplan.  

Here’s the deal though. There’s a real fine line between sharing numbers and burning spots.  

Spot Burners

Spots can and do get burned.  Loose lips might not sink ships, but they do turn off bites.  If you think that a hundred boats or more fishing in a 2-mile radius doesn’t shut the fishing down, well, you haven’t been fishing offshore for long.  Too many fish get killed, the fish stop biting, and they won’t stick around when there are dozens of boats trolling over every sign of life. Or running and gunning with jigs and poppers.

(Sometimes during a good chunk bite such fleets can actually keep fish around, but I’m gonna treat that as the exception to the rule here.)    

What I’m getting at is that, yes, sharing numbers with a close group of friends and colleagues is good. But publicly burning spots?  Not so much.  

Trusted Networks

I’m lucky to have a close group of folks I regularly share information with.  These are the anglers I’ve grown to trust over the years, who have likewise grown to trust me.  Honestly, it’s mostly charter boats. It’s these guys who are out there the most, and inevitably they cover the most ground.  Plus, these are the guys with the decades of knowledge, analyzing conditions, water temps, chlorophyll, etc, running long distances, covering a lot of water, and spending all those hours searching. 

These are the folks most likely to find life on their own. And, of course, share it with me.  Because I’m one of them, and you bet your ass I’m going to share with those guys, too.  After all, we’re all in the same boat, trying to put food on our family tables. And avoiding real jobs.   

When we find fish, these are the guys who deserve to know before the weekend warrior types get in on the action. Is it really fair when the anglers that don’t put in the time and work just go out and crush fish because someone gave them numbers?  

Of course, that sort of annoyingly righteous sense of entitlement to a public resource is all well and good until one of those random inexperienced weekend warriors with a big fast boat and a lot of disposable income finds the motherlode. Then I’d really like to know where.    

This is where things get tricky.  If they give me information, I’m obliged to return the favor.  I like to think I’m a man of honor, so I certainly do reciprocate, with the caveat that you keep that information, and especially those numbers, to yourself.  

The Numbers Carousel

The problem is that such sharing of numbers doesn’t always go well.  

I can make you “promise” to not share them with anyone else, but that just means you’ll only tell a “few” of your closest fishing buddies. The guys who NEED to get on the bite in the one day a week they sail. Maybe that person owes them intel from previous information shared, and they’re just returning the favor.  That’s cool right?  Uhm, not really.      

Because even if it’s just one other guy they tell, then that guy tells just one other guy, because what’s the harm?  And so on.  Soon, the number of anglers “in-the-know” grows exponentially.  Seriously, I’ve had numbers come around full circle, when someone else in my network sends me the “double-secret” numbers I so sparingly shared.  It’s happened more than once. 

It’s not a great feeling when you get within range of your top-secret spot before the sun even comes up and it looks like there’s a small city on your numbers.  And it’s a little bit uncomfortable when you come to realize that maybe it was you who blew it up by telling the wrong guy.  

When that does happen, am I ever gonna share intel with those guys again? 

Karma Comes Around

I wasn’t lying above when I said that I do want other boats to catch fish. So when people I haven’t established a mutually trusting relationship with ask for information, I’m probably not going to share hard numbers, but I absolutely will do my best to provide general area info.  In some cases this might bite me in the ass, as they might have a really good radar where they can pick up a handful of boats 15 miles away, but that’s unusual.  And hey, maybe they find fish 10 miles away and have the good grace to call me in.  Good Karma works both ways. 

What’s the cardinal sin here?  It’s something only the real buttholes do.  That’s send someone to numbers that are 100% made up, and way off where the fish actually are.  Come on man.  That’s just a dick move.  I’ve never done that and I never will.  And if you have?  Well, expect a good kick in the ass by karma.  

Greener Waters 

Lastly, just because you got some numbers from a friend of a friend who caught “a ton” of tuna at this super-secret spot several days ago does NOT mean you should ditch all your research and hard work, and not go to that spot where you were initially planning on going.  Because someone has to find the next good bite, right?  And the odds are good that the intel you got is old, the spot will be crowded and those fish might have very well moved on by then.  

The point is that the grass is always greener, and that guy’s numbers aren’t always better. In fact, they usually aren’t.  You may end up kicking yourself later when you find out your intuition was right and your buddy crushed them where you were going to go. 

In the end, if you find fish, great, but like I said.  It’s a big ocean, and it’s sometimes a crap shoot.  If you don’t understand that a good portion of the offshore game depends on nothing more than luck, well, I have to believe you just haven’t been fishing offshore long enough.  And really, you simply can’t be lucky all the time.  

Having a good network of trusted colleagues can sometimes be the difference between an epic day and a terrible one.  Still, it often pays to have some stones, take some chances and go find fish on your own.  Just keep those numbers in your back pocket.   

(P.S. While I’d like to think it goes without saying, it’s probably not a great idea to share numbers with the guy(s) who sell intel. It’s their prerogative to sell whatever they want.  But crowds are crowds, and those guys are very good at burning spots already. They don’t need your help. )